Katty Huertas is rewriting and celebrating underrepresented Colombian folk stories
Katty Huerta’s style is unmistakenly intentional, authentic, and sincere. Her work, known for its multi-medium approach, explores issues of female identity, folklore, double standards, and animal rights, among other subjects.
For the last eight months, Katty has been working towards her graduate thesis at Maryland Institute College of Art. It’s a celebration of Colombian folklore through different graphic forms of communicating a narrative. By writing a story, designing a typeface, making a book, and creating a sculpture that activates through AR, Katty built a universe for Mountain Mother to live in, one which was informed by the place she comes from. Inspired by magic realism, she succeeded in creating a sense of awe in the viewer while still communicating Mountain Mother’s environmental message.
On Colombian folklore
“I grew up watching “Cuentos de los Hermanos Grimm,” the animated adaptation of the German tales. I learned to love these characters despite not looking like them, and I knew all about the castles they lived in, without having seen one in person. It turns out, Germany isn’t the only country with a rich history of magic-driven folklore narratives. Instead of Cinderella, Rapunzel, or Snow White, Colombia has La Llorona, La Muelona, and La Madremonte. These are stories that bear the name of their main character, who, in turn, are often nameless and are only called by a nickname given due to their appearance. These characters are neither human nor completely alien, but rather amalgamations of women and monsters that never got their happily ever after. The tales are magical and full of teachings.
One of my favorites is La Madremonte or Mountain Mother, a half-woman half-wilderness creature born out of the river. For this project, I wanted to create my own adaptation of the tale, and so I gave her more human characteristics. Her human side is flawed; she doesn’t intend any harm but ends up harming people in her quest to protect the environment. Mountain Mother doesn’t get a happy ending. Instead, her life continues as usual, and it is the people who surround her the ones who learn how to better coexist with her and in fear of retribution end up doing the right thing. In the end, all it took was a golden medallion to serve as a guilt-inducing placebo artifact to remind the townspeople of the importance of nature.”
On representation in storytelling
“We hear the words “representation matters” thrown so much that we might become immune to them, but the truth is representation really does matter. We all stand on the shoulders of giants and the teachings and development of previous generations. Any POC can probably tell you that the feeling is different when that giant looks like you.
I am in awe of people who are the firsts at anything because I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for them to see themselves in those roles. But representation should go far beyond the real world, and into stories. When we’re little and we barely step out of our home, stories are how we get to know what’s out there. These can take different shapes, whether they are printed in a book or shown on TV. For me growing up, most of the narratives I consumed didn’t match my surroundings and so I wanted to create a story with similar origins as mine; a celebration of narratives that are often left untold.”
On ornamental/maximalist design
“If you look at a lot of rebrands of recent years, you’ll see the same formulaic approach being adopted, take anything that may have some personality, and replace it with a sans-serif typeface. What was once a revolutionary way of designing has become canon, and while simplicity works sometimes, and it is clearly utilitarian, not every problem can be solved using the same approach. I also think that the reluctance of using ornament is that it is often seen as feminine, and there’s a lot of biases out there against femininity.
I’m a “more is more” type of person who believes ornament can be strong and add some more interest to a graphic. For “Mountain Mother & Other Stories,” I wanted to be inspired by the real landscapes and plants that would surround Mountain Mother if she was real. I designed a display typeface to use for the title and drop-caps of the book taking ques of plant’s roots. “Mountain Mother” the typeface is not the easiest to read but has that organic feel I was going after.”
On fusing analog & digital
“I think each medium comes with a “look,” whether it is analog or digital. Coloring with pencils and painting with oils will obviously have a very different result. The same happens with digital tools, and since designers mostly use the same software (AKA Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign), a lot of the work ends up looking the same where you can barely see the hand of the artist. There’s even a Cinema 4D “look” that is very characteristic.
For this project, in particular, I wanted to see how I could take advantage of the variety, unpredictability, and imperfections of the physical world and bring those together with the convenience of a digital workflow. I painted shapes on wood and scanned them to import them into C4D to later bring them again into the real world through augmented reality. There are some textures that you can’t fake. And even if I could fake those, why would I when I enjoy working with materials so much.”
On her career
“Since I was little, I knew I wanted to do something creative (except for a brief period when I wanted to be a veterinarian.) That drive has taken me to explore different mediums, from traditional oil painting to animation, knitwear design, creative coding, and even typeface design.
I never want to be pigeonholed into a single specialization, which is why I like broad terms like “artist” and “designer.” While I see the value of becoming a specialized creative visual person, the jobs I enjoy the most are the ones where I get to use more than one skill. An example of this was at the Women’s March Art Build, where I got to design, paint, and sculpt, all while doing it for a good cause. For my thesis, I knew I wanted to create something across media. While focusing on a single story, I ended up designing a modular typeface and a book, animating a type specimen, creating a sculpture that included animation and AR and even fabricating a table.
Regarding my career, I’m not sure where it will take me next, but I’m definitely looking forward to it!”